Remember how to train your diplomat? Thus:

Busy new areas of Diplomatic Theory are being invented by the social science industrial complex.  Diplomacy is sliced and diced to create new specialities and plump research grant opportunities. Economic Diplomacy. Commercial Diplomacy. Climate Diplomacy. Once these new specialities float off as part of ‘civil society’ in the balmy seas of the EU or other official funding, they spawn new ‘interdisciplinary’ phenomena. Why not combine Environmental Diplomacy with Gender Diplomacy?

The key thing in all this fomenting of useless theory is to insist on strict demarcation lines between these so-called disciplines. We mere, actual diplomats might, for example, think that Economic Diplomacy could tell us about economic sanctions, and how regimes subject to international sanctions duck and weave to avoid them. But no. Sanctions come under Security Diplomacy. Sorry. Wrong course.

Now along comes Shaun Riordan to make a similar point:

There is understandable enthusiasm for extending the concept of “diplomacy” beyond government diplomats, reflecting the plethora of new state and non-state actors participating in international relations. But the lack of intellectual rigour with which this is often done risks emptying “diplomacy” of all meaning.

When courses on diplomacy seriously discuss diplomacy in the family context, then diplomacy ends up meaning little more than getting what you want through negotiation or manipulation, rather than just thumping someone. If everything is diplomacy, then diplomacy no longer means anything useful, and we can give up using the term (and presumably close down the diplomatic studies courses).

Similarly, it is not clear if all those new state and non-state actors participating in international affairs do so as diplomats. They may be doing similar things to diplomats, or participating in the same activities, but are they doing so in the same way as diplomats, or with the same world-view? Is there a diplomatic way of doing things, or thinking about the world, which allows us to distinguish between diplomats and non-diplomats doing diplomat-like things?

The question is crucial. If, as some have suggested, it is the pragmatic and almost amoral world view of the diplomat (seeing the world in shades of grey) that allows them to mitigate international conflict, what happens when international actors with less morally flexible world views (e.g. NGOs, seeing the world in black and white) multiply?

These are questions for another blog, but which show up the lack of intellectual rigour behind the invention of new “kinds” of diplomacy. Meanwhile, let’s be done with these “new diplomacies”.

That would appear to end the issue.

Wait. Here’s Katharina Hone who worries that diplomacy is a bit old-fashioned:

One thing is clear, if we approach diplomacy as a profession, it remains linked to the state. We need to wonder if that is still appropriate.

One of the driving forces behind new diplomacy is the emergence of new individuals and organisations, not linked to the state, managing our global affairs. Many of the new areas of diplomacy – like Internet governance, climate change, education, health, humanitarian affairs – are marked by the presence of new diplomats (non-governmental organisations and civil society) who influence debates by introducing new and crucial topics, who participate in global deliberation, and who are key for the implementation of global goals.

Ah. Our old friend ‘civil society’ – a euphemism for the seething mass of NGOs who are not NG, in that they get huge sums of money from official sources to promote officially endorsed ideas and pretend to be independent.

Of course, this should not lead us to believe that these new diplomats operate on equal footing with the traditional ones. The playing field is not level and careful analysis is needed to see to what extent the new diplomats participate in negotiation and influence outcomes. It is clear that we do not escape the state entirely.

Yes! Vital to have LOTS more ‘analysis’, especially if someone else pays for it! Otherwise what would analysts actually do?

As long as this is the organisational model of our world, this is not a problem. However, if this is in the process of changing, our idea of diplomacy also needs to adapt. If it didn’t, diplomacy would simply become irrelevant and die out.


What we should be discussing are the criteria for such decisions and the purpose of applying these criteria. In relation to new diplomacy three particularly important ones come to mind: empirical evidence, attention to specific practices and tools, and expressions of aspirations for a better world.

First, if we see that new topics emerge and non-professional diplomats become relevant for the management of international affairs, then our use of the term ‘diplomacy’ needs to reflect that.

Second, terms like climate change diplomacy and digital diplomacy remind us that we are dealing with a specialised field of activity. In the case of the former, scientific evidence and the role of the expert play a much bigger role. In the case of the latter, there are new tools that need our attention. Terminology should reflect that and, hence, allow us to address these differences.

Third, we can, much like president Woodrow Wilson’s ‘open covenants … openly arrived at’, also consider new diplomacies as expressions of how the world could be, of ideals and hopes for a better future…

In other words, to distinguish the real diplomacy from the imposter in new clothing needs careful analysis. Not all new diplomacies are naked.

Phew. Naked diplomacy. That will cause a raised eyebrow or two at any embassy’s National Day reception.

A danger greater than overuse of the term diplomacy, is the potential of diplomacy to become anachronistic and to no longer reflect the changes in the management of global affairs. If diplomacy is not to become a dinosaur, new diplomacies and their careful debate should be welcomed as part of a much-needed dynamism in the field.

Which field?

* * * * *

Shaun is mainly right. Katharina is mainly wrong.

The clue is here: “… the emergence of new individuals and organisations, not linked to the state, managing our global affairs”.


Right from earliest times there have always been people ‘not linked to the state’ playing their part in the world’s activities. Churches, trading houses, gilds, mercenaries, pirates and so on. The state in its modern form exists in good part to allow uneasy rulers to keep a beady eye on such things and stop them getting too powerful. So there is literally nothing new in such phenomena ’emerging’.

What is new is the speed and scale of new ways of doing things on a vast networked scale. Facebook was launched a mere 700 weeks ago to a few gossipy Harvard students. It now has two billion people signed up.

Once the Facebook/Google/Amazon/Apple industrial complex have billions of people around the world chattering and cooperating and bickering in unimaginable quantities, it does become possible for all sorts of things to be done differently. Including, perhaps, abolishing government as it has evolved over the past thousand years or so, in favour of some sort of disaggregated incoherent private/public e-pluralism.

That said, as readers here well know, there are only two issues in politics and pretty much anything:

Who decides?

Who decides who decides?

As things currently stand, the state (alas?) is fighting back pretty well against the multiple threats posed by these IT behemoths. Everywhere you look the issue of who decides who decides is being decided (as ever) by those who have the crude power to impose their will. Namely governments, in one form or other. China. Russia.Turkey. Bang. Take that, Google. Look at the battles going on over ‘Internet governance’ – played out at the UN and in other official fora for deciding such things.

Therefore what?

All sorts of interests and demands and ideas slosh around, just as they’ve always done.

What is to be done about any of them is as usual decided by diplomats (ie civil servants tasked with negotiating on the issue at hand) and leaders sitting around the table or quietly chatting over a drink, ignoring much of the babbling outside. Hammering out arrangements that might work, and working out how to respond if no deal is reached. They might take advice from experts and lobbyists, duly aiming off for the noisy buzzing of bees in said experts’ and lobbyists’ bonnets. There again, they might not.

The one thing that all these simpering new ‘diplomacies’ have in common is that they do NOT ‘manage’ our affairs, in respect of climate, humanitarian affairs, health and education or anything else. Instead they manoeuvre self-importantly to get money (ideally from the state, but plump private foundation money will do just as well) to help them lobby governments on their pet interests. And they mainly follow feebly far in the wake of people actually doing things: inventing new energy-efficient technologies, or new apps to help manage human disasters, or clever ways to pool medical knowledge, or new online universities.

In short, all these new pseudo-diplomacies are the remora fish of international life, nibbling on scraps thrown off by much bigger creations. They hope to insinuate themselves into places where decisions are made and influence them, even though they have no obvious/legitimate mandate to do so.

There is nothing in all these multifarious diplomacies to ‘analyse’. There’s no ‘there’ there. Talking in clunky academic language about important new things may help you become a clunky academic, but it does not make you important, or new. Proclaiming a new ‘field’ of diplomacy is faux-diplomacy. Indeed, let’s invent a new academic discipline HERE AND NOW.

Faux-Diplauxmacy Studies. Quick, give me a grant, plus lots of ‘criteria’ and ‘tools’. This needs careful analysis.